Tag Archives: Money

Changing the Way I Track My Spending

I first started really keeping track of my daily spending in December 2015. Since then, I’ve tried a few different ways to track, and honestly I’m still not sure if I found the way that’s right for me. But I am learning all along the way, so that’s something. And I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here so maybe you can avoid some of the things that didn’t work for me.

First, I created a budget listing expenses by category. Then, throughout the month, I would list every purchase amount made and also color-code them by category. I would input those amounts into a formula to be balanced within the budget. It looked something like this:

Note: all amounts are made-up.

It was very colorful and the color-codes allowed me to see where my money went, but it was also very labor-intensive and didn’t really help me at all when I was at the check-out counter. I would spend first, think later. So it was a lot of work and didn’t help me stick to my budget. I needed to try something else.

Next, I tried to simplify things a bit. Instead of keeping a running list of every purchase I made, I just added the amount spent into the “spent” section of a slightly different budget set-up I created.

The design was a lot simpler and thus easier to use. I did need to make sure I was keeping track of purchases as they happened because they weren’t detailed in the spreadsheet so it was harder to figure out what amount corresponded to what purchase receipt. It helped a little bit more with deterring spending — I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had to keep track more often? Maybe because after a year I was just naturally being a bit more mindful? Still, keeping track of what purchase was affecting which category was hard to do at the check-out counter.

In the past few weeks, I’ve decided to try yet another strategy. This one incorporates the budget spreadsheet with the calendar in my bullet journal. I use yet another reincarnation of my budget to determine a weekly spending amount (ideally in cash), then write that amount on the Sunday block of a new week. Then, throughout the week, I subtract the dollar amount I spend each day, hopefully not straying past $0 by the end of the week. If I do stray past $0 during the week, I subtract that deficit from the next week on Sunday.

The new budget:

And the calendar… it’s quite messy, but it looks like this:

Maybe you can tell that I am already really far beyond this month. I did buy a new computer, though. My hope, however, is that I will be able to amass many more highlighter-green days, a.k.a. no-spend days, to make up the deficit by the end of the month. Seeing that negative number everyday is a motivator, but I’ve still yet to find out if it is motivating enough. The highlighter-green days are inspiring — they are my goal.

So if you are looking for ways to track your spending, maybe some of this will help. I’m sure there are tons of options to look at online. And don’t be afraid to play around with different strategies to find out what works best for you. And remember, what worked best for you last year, might not be the best anymore — don’t be afraid to change it up and keep it fresh. As long as you’re trying to keep track of spending (i.e. keeping what’s going out less than what’s coming in), I believe you are on the right path to some financial comfort.

The Fear of Downsizing… My Computer

What if it’s not enough? What if I can’t do what I need to do? What if I can’t do what I want to do? Is it even worth the investment? Should I wait for something bigger or better to present itself? What if it’s not what I expect? What if it’s not enough?

I am in need of a new computer and I have made the choice to downsize. And I’m a little scared.

I have owned 2 personal computers in my life. My first experience with a computer was a Gateway desktop, with dial-up internet. Man, I loved playing in that cow-colored box. Next, when I was in high school, my parents bought me my own black Dell desktop that I kept in my room. We got better internet in that era and it was awesome. And finally in January 2006, after a semester of excellent attendance and grades in college, my parents bought me a sleek white MacBook.

I love this MacBook. It has served me very well in the past 11 years and 5 months. And it’s still going! I debate getting rid of it at all, but, truth be told, it’s just getting too outdated. Can I use it for what I need to do? Yes, most of the time.

Here’s the deal.

  • I don’t have much storage space. I store all of my music on an external hard drive because there is no room on my actual computer. Same for photos. So then I just started storing all documents on the external hard drive, too. All of the storage space on this computer is basically used in a way so the computer itself will function — it’s not storing any of my personal files anymore.
  • The battery is pretty much dead. I need to keep this computer plugged in all the time when I am using it. It will stay on for a few minutes between outlets if I need to move it, but that’s it. This has essentially made my laptop into a desktop for the last 5 years. I just never got around to replacing the battery and now it seems too late.
  • I always need to keep this laptop open. I mean, physically keep the screen up. There is some sort of loose wire in the hinge and whenever I close the laptop, it is very, very, difficult to open it again and still see the screen. I can see an extremely faint outline of items on the screen, but it is essentially black. It can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to finagle the screen back up with a back-lit picture showing. So I just leave it open all the time to avoid that hassle. But that creates other hassles, like dust collecting in the keyboard and cats stepping on it and opening unexpected windows and menus.
  • It just can’t handle another update. I needed to update my operating system about 2 years ago to be able to connect to our wireless printer. This took up even more storage space and was not compatible with a lot of my software, such as Microsoft Office. I’ve been able to get along just fine without the software, thanks to things like Google Docs and online photo editors. But even though I just updated the operating system, this system is not supported for many other updates, including, most importantly for me, Google Chrome. Sadly, the hardware of this system just can’t support another operating system update and it doesn’t seem worth the money to essentially rebuild it with components that will.

I would love to replace this MacBook with the current equivalent, but now that the money is coming out of my pocket, I think, that starting at around $1,200, it’s too expensive. We have student loan debt and a mortgage and home repair debt. We could take some of our income and put it towards a new MacBook, but it just doesn’t make sense to me if it’s going to slow down our debt repayments. Even if we had no debt… well, maybe I would buy a MacBook then… but really I would want to do even more home improvements — like finish our attic and basement to better utilize the space we already have.

So I decided not to buy another MacBook. Thus began my quest to find a suitable replacement. One that didn’t run Windows (I really dislike the Windows operating system). Eventually, for $214, I decided on getting a Chromebook… And that’s where the major downsizing came in.

I am losing some functionality, but I think I can make it work. (I hope it works!) It satisfies 3 out of the 4 problems listed above with my current MacBook — it’ll have a new battery with a long life, it will be mobile, and it will technologically up-to-date. The thing is, it still doesn’t have much storage space.

Chromebooks are designed to have most, if not all, digital matter stored in the Cloud. I’m a little weary of storing everything on the internet, but I do still have my external hard drive to store back-ups and super personal files. My husband has a Toshiba laptop running Windows to which I will transfer my iTunes account, since one cannot run iTunes on an Chromebook at all. I fear that not having my very own iTunes will be the thing I miss the most — after all, I’ve already been dealing with no storage space and loss of software for a few years now — but it will definitely be manageable.

There’s probably a lot more that even my current obsolete MacBook can do that a Chromebook cannot, but when I really thought about it, I decided I didn’t really need it. I asked myself “What do I use my computer for on a day-today basis?” and “What do I want to use it for in the future?”

Right now, I basically use my computer for the internet — things like online banking, email, domestic shopping, connecting to the library, searching for information, reading blogs, etc. — and a Chromebook should be ace at allowing me to do all that.

In the future, I want to do more writing. It certainly does not take a powerful computer to do word processing, so a Chromebook should manage fine. I will have to give up Scrivener, but as much as I like Scrivener, I am looking forward to the simplicity of writing without all the bells and whistles. Like, a typewriter has been seeming very appealing to me lately — no distractions. A Chromebook will be full of internet distractions, but I can also just physically disconnect from that for a while.

There are lots of other things that I’ve used a computer for in the past, like editing videos and photos, but I’ve grown away from them and have no desire to go back to it. I have a family now and want to spend more time with them and less time in front of a screen. And since I’ll be sharing iTunes with my husband, maybe that’ll bring us closer, too, ha. I’m diving in — the Chromebook should arrive in the mail sometime next week — and I’ll just see how it goes.

Hopefully it’s enough.

Debt Feelings

I hate debt. Our family experienced a hardship a few months ago in the form of a car crash last October. We are all healthy and well, which I am super thankful for, but our finances took a hit and it’s been a hard battle getting back on top again.

My husband and I usually never carry credit card balances, but we have $3,000 worth of credit card debt right now and it is really weighing down on us. Not only are we stressed out, but we feel a bit hopeless. I feel stuck on a hamster wheel of work, work, working toward paying it off and yet we’re not getting anywhere.

There are a few unfortunate circumstances and mistakes that have put us in this position.

First, of course, was the car crash. We lost the value of the car we crashed, we had to pay towing and other varying reparations, and we had to buy a new car. That totaled at about $9,600. (Ugh, it’s painful to see it written out here.) That wiped out our meager savings and then some.

Then, it was Christmas and the whole holiday season in general. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get comfortable financially during that time of year and I just can’t seem to manage it. We don’t spend a lot on gifts, but we do get some things. Like, I bought the clothes Wingnut and Pigpen needed for Christmas because I still feel this obligation to have something under the tree for them (I want to get rid of that nagging feeling of duty). We get a tree, we go to parties, we go out with friends. It’s a season of celebration and it cost us money. Money we didn’t have.

Next, Andrew and I needed some clothes, too. He really needed new sneakers. The soles on his old ones were smooth with wear and his socks got wet in the rain. So we went shopping. I also bought some clothes I “needed”. That is in quotations because I did kind of need the stuff I bought. I am wearing them all now and getting tons of use out of them. I am very happy and satisfied with the purchases. The only problem was: we bought them on credit. I bought these wonderful pieces of clothing without the cash to do so. And if I am really truly honest with myself, although my old clothes were uncomfortable and deteriorating, I really could’ve gotten by without buying new. The old stuff was falling apart, but it was still keeping me warm.

The anxiety I’m feeling now, makes me wish I was more discerning then. But then that’s the problem with credit — it’s easy to justify purchases because it’s so easy to swipe the card. We can afford this swipe and this swipe and this swipe, but not all these swipes together. Because even if the purchases are perfectly legitimate, we still didn’t have the money to buy them. And I don’t know, that makes me feel poor.

And now I get into the controversial bit. I really don’t think I’m poor because we have a house and eat pretty well and have an annual income pretty dead-center in the average range for middle-class households of 3 in New Jersey (although we are a household of 4). But when you calculate in our debt, it starts to look a lot more dire.

We already paid off about 50% of our student loan debt, which is awesome. But the remaining balances are 71% of our annual income, which is definitely not awesome. They come out to be 26% of our monthly budget. Our mortgage is another 25% of our monthly budget, leaving less than half for all other living expenses, like food, heat, and transportation. Which brings our annual income clearly below what is considered middle-class, but still not technically under the federal poverty line.

Truthfully, I grew up comfortably middle-class, maybe even upper middle-class, and I’m just not used to saying no to a new coat when my current one is falling apart. But this winter, that’s how it’s been for us. It’s a personal experience and it hasn’t been pleasant for us. We’re stressed and despairing. I believe that we will get out of debt, but the wait is excruciating. I’m hoping to at least get these credit cards paid off within the next month or two and I hope that’s realistic because I really, really want it gone. Then it’s back to work building up our emergency savings before we can even think about tackling any more student loans.

Having debt sucks. I want to feel free and content and comfortable buying things we need. I want to feel secure in our finances, especially our savings, in case we experience another hardship. Regardless of whether we are or not, I don’t want to feel poor. I don’t want thousands and thousands of dollars of debt hanging over my head. I don’t want to be overdrawn or in perpetual service to indebtedness.

And to do that honestly, I think I’ll need to reevaluate my standard of living.

Some Thoughts on Minimal Privilege

About a year ago, I wrote about increasing satisfaction through deprivation. I tried my best to turn a difficult situation into something from which to learn and grow. I wanted to feel good about a state of lack and so I decided to be appreciative.

Last night, the blower on our furnace broke down. We had no heat, save for a small space heater we borrowed to keep the children’s bedroom warm (Andrew and I piled on blankets to stay warm while we slept), while a snow storm blew outside.
During the day, with the snow falling harder, the space heater actually did a pretty good job of keeping the house warm while we waited for an available HVAC technician to come take a look at our furnace. The temperature in the house never even dipped below 60°F.
As we endured this slight inconvenience, I kept thinking about what I wrote about in my Increasing Satisfaction Through Deprivation post and I didn’t feel as comfortable with it. I mean, I think it still has its merits, but since I read a guest post on Becoming Minimalist about Minimal Privilege, I just haven’t been able to think about it in the same way.
All of us are permitted to have our own feelings and experiences. My experiences are not less valid because someone else experiences something harder. But being aware of what others may be going through is a powerful concept. I feel less flippant about using deprivation as a tool — using my privilege to choose how and when to deprive myself — when it is a real life struggle for some people.
I sometimes feel bogged down by our debt, but I don’t really have to worry about having enough food for my family or having the electric cut off or being able to keep the family warm enough. We are quite fortunate and it will serve me well to remember that.
It’s also good for me to remember that others may not be as fortunate as myself so I can do what I can to help, whether that be by donating to charities, helping a friend, or by being more mindful during conversations.

I Joined A Gym

I didn’t want to join a gym.

I really believe that adding exercise into your daily activity is extremely possible. Taking stairs instead of elevators. Going for walks in spare moments, like your lunch hour or something. Lifting arm weights while watching television.

But the truth of my life right now is, I don’t have many spare moments. And when I do, I sit and relax. Maybe even read! Although raising a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old is a type of exercise all of its own, I wanted to focus more on myself for a few hours a weak. Really focus on keeping my own physicality fit.

I think I have a nice, simple “gym” set-up at home. I have an elliptical (found for free on the side of the road when people were moving!), a yoga mat with 3 yoga DVDs, and 2 sets of hand weights in different heaviness. The only thing that I don’t seem to have at home is enough time.

That’s why I joined a gym. They have a daycare. This makes the whole endeavor of working out as simple as simple could be for me. I drive to the gym, hand off my children, and then focus entirely on my physical self for an hour. Then I collect the kids and drive home.

One day, I will return to exercising exclusively at home or around town. When the children are old enough to be left alone for an hour — or to join me!

I didn’t want to spend the money on a gym membership. Being minimalist, I try to cut out all extraneous expenses to keep life simple and stress-free. But then I realized, a gym membership actually reduces stress for me right now. Thus, it’s worth the cost. (Even with the extra charge for daycare.)

It was quite the minimalist revelation: what worked for me before may not work now. And spending money might actually be the answer! And, perhaps the most counterintuitive of all, an extra thing might just contribute to simplicity.

Home For The Holidays – The Hope Effect

A couple of the things that I am most thankful for — perhaps even the thing (or 2 things) I am most thankful for — is my home and family. Especially when it’s cold outside and it seems like all the world is getting together for the holidays, I notice how lucky I am to have the home and family that I do.

Since becoming a minimalist, I’ve asked for nothing as a gift for the holidays (in my family’s case, it’s Christmas). I must admit I haven’t had must success with my extended family when it comes to this blatant rejection of what has become a social norm. So this year I’ve decided to try a little something different.

This year, I’ve set up a fundraising page to help build small family-style homes for orphans and I’m asking all of my friends, family, and you readers to donate. I’m hoping to raise $500 before December 26, but really any amount is wonderful. People have already donated so I already feel like a success!

You can click to read about the charity, The Hope Effect.

You can click to learn about the campaign, Home for the Holidays.

And you can click to view my fundraising page — and donate!

No pressure, though.

And remember, it doesn’t have to be #GivingTuesday to give.

I hope everyone is feeling warm and snug and loved. And I hope that everyone knows that buying more stuff won’t make you feel more loved — you must first be loving.

A Simple Cloth Diaper Set-up

Once Wingnut started eating solid foods, we started using cloth diapers. We wanted to save some money and reduce the amount of waste we were contributing to landfills. We supplement with disposable diapers for overnight, travel, hot weather, and when the cloth diapers are in the laundry. We now use the same cloth diapers with our second child, Pigpen.

Our simple set-up includes:

We have two types of prefold inserts because we were gifted the burp cloths and then supplemented by buying some Bummis. The burp cloths are much thinner than the Bummis so we have to stack 2 or 3 before folding them into the covers to provide enough absorbency.

I like the Flip covers because they can be reused throughout the day by just swapping out the dirty insert. They are usually quite good at keeping in wetness, but we do have to change cloth diapers more frequently than disposables. I like to change them after about 2 hours and really try to avoid letting them go longer than 3 hours.

During a typical cloth diaper change, I usually just switch out the soiled insert with a clean replacement. If there is just pee, I put the insert in a covered garbage pail lined with a laundry bag. If there is poo, I dump it (and/or scrape with a clean corner of the insert) into the toilet before putting the insert into the pail. If the cover is wet or soiled, I toss that in the pail, too, and use a new cover.

I know 4 covers isn’t that many, especially for 2 boys. But now that Wingnut is learning to use the toilet and (disposable) pull-ups, he doesn’t wear the cloth diapers as often. Having fewer covers means I wash the cloth diapers in the laundry every 2 to 4 days (depending how much we also use disposables in that time). I think that’s pretty often to have to wash laundry, but it is a small load. And I don’t like the diaper pail with soiled cloths to sit longer than that anyway because it can get smelly when opened.

This cloth diapering system cost us about $110. If we had had to buy the burp cloths, too, it would have cost us about $140. By the money saved as opposed to buying disposables, this system had paid for itself within 2 months.

This system isn’t perfect, but it works for us. I did most of my research to figure out the products and system I wanted by watching YouTube videos by people who have done cloth diapering themselves. If you are looking for more information, I definitely recommend checking them out.

Good luck with your own cloth diapering adventure and bon voyage!

A Simple Wedding

I started writing this post a few different ways already, but neither seemed right. So I tried to think about what I really wanted to say with this post and realized I mostly just want to remind anyone reading that they can do their wedding their way, instead of the way they think society and our culture wants them to.

In my first post attempt, I started talking about trends I noticed among my peers about weddings, but that scope was way too small to be anywhere near accurate. Then, in my second attempt, I tried narrowing it down to my personal experience and talking about the details of my own simple wedding, but that seemed too specific to be of general help. And neither of those approaches were very accurate in what I wanted to say.

I just want to remind readers that you have the permission to give yourself to do things your way. I planned my wedding without being familiar with minimalism or other conscious-living movements; It would have been nice to feel more supported about being different and doing things differently. That’s what I want this post to do: Support others in deviating from the status quo — bringing people back to appreciating the personal values of weddings, not the commercial-driven extravagance of grandeur and materialism.

Of course there are other factors besides your own whims to consider, such as money, family, and your partner. Ultimately, your wedding is a ceremonial celebration of your love, and it would be best to go into your wedding planning with an attitude to protect that pleasant and loving feeling no matter how things end up going.

As with a simpler life, a simpler wedding has the benefits of less cost, less worry and responsibility, less clean up, and less stress, while leaving room for more fun, more relaxation, more time, and more love.

If you are here looking for some inspiration, I’ll give you a little peek at some of the unorthodox ideas that my husband and I used in our wedding with which we were incredibly pleased:

  • Engagement Ring An untraditional and ornamental ring with a small stone. About $326
  • Engagement Party No registry.
  • Bridal Shower Didn’t have one.
  • Bachelor Party A weekend camping.
  • Bridal Party Only a Maid of Honor and Best Man. They both wore what they wanted.
  • Wedding Dress A short, beaded flapper dress that Andrew helped me pick out and I’ve worn again multiple times. $285
  • Invitations Designed and printed them ourselves.
  • Photography No video or professional photos. A friend volunteered to take photos all evening.
  • Music iPod playlist compiled of song requests from RSVPs played through borrowed DJ equipment. We used the microphone for announcements and speeches whenever we wanted.
  • Favors Tree saplings wrapped in tiny burlap bags.

Weddings are such a huge do now, that it feels inadequate to write such a short post about them. And yet, it feels appropriate because a wedding is just a party, after all. It’s just one day. It’s importance is in what it represents — the start of your married life together. Spend less time and energy planning the day of your wedding and more on the life of your marriage. I think you’ll find the results to be much more satisfying.


Swelling Savings

A while back I wrote about decreasing debt. We have a lot and it’d be nice to get rid of it. That isn’t our only financial goal, though. We also want to save some of our income. We think it is super important, not only for our near and distant futures, but in case of a financial emergency that could happen right now.

I also already wrote about the benefits of planning ahead financially. Now I’m going to tell you how we’re doing it now.

We’ve made it automatic.

Paying down our debt is made easier by setting up automatic payments for every loan we’re paying off. Swelling savings is made easier by the same concept.

We have three-ish savings piles, if you will. One is an emergency savings — an easily accessible $1,000 to be utilized in a (true) emergency. We built it up to that amount slowly and now we let it sit there. We don’t contribute to that pile and we won’t anymore unless we use it. If we use any or all of it, we will contribute what we can when we can until it is $1,000 again, ready for the next (true) emergency.

The other pile is what I’ve been calling our life savings, but I don’t think that’s a totally appropriate name. I think “catastrophe savings” is a more fitting name, but it was a bit too dooms-day-ish for me. We are working on building this pile up to be 3-6 months worth of our income so we can use it for day-to-day living expensing if we are ever in a situation where we are unable to work. This will give us a cushion to maintain our home and lifestyle until we are able to work again.

I say 3-6 months and not a definite number because we plan on ours to fluctuate between these two numbers. We want at least 3 months worth of income in our savings at any time. But once our contributions cause it to grow past 6 months, we will dump the “extra” 3 months into decreasing our debt (oh what a dent that will make!), and continue contributing. After our debt is all paid off, we will re-evaluate this plan.

Notice I also said “3-6 months worth of income” and “maintain our home and lifestyle“. I’m not talking about just covering living expenses. I’m talking about, in a catastrophe situation, keeping our house, continuing to pay down our debts, still eating healthily, keeping our cell phone and internet service, and continuing to save. Saving enough to maintain our lifestyle (granted it’s a minimalist, and affordable, lifestyle for us), instead of just enough to keep us off the streets, will give us a little extra cushion to stave off stress. And if we really needed to, we could make that money go further.

The other third-ish pile (I say “ish” because it’s actually spread around into a few other smaller piles) is our retirement savings (or “life savings” as I would like to be able to think of it). Through our employers, Andrew has a 401K and I have a defined contribution pension. Additionally, we each have a personal Roth IRA. Most of the money going toward our retirement savings is taken out and saved before we even see it in our paychecks.

All of our savings is calculated from what we feel comfortable affording and taken out automatically each month. Not seeing it enter the checkbook helps, too. When I went back to work after my second maternity leave (Pigpen learned to drink from a bottle just fine, by the way), I switched my direct deposit to go into our savings account instead of our checking. We had been living off of one income for a few months already anyway, so it made perfect sense to us to save that money for projects, catastrophes, or debts.

It took us a few years to figure out how much we could save monthly and how much should go to each purpose, but it’s automatically set now and on a roll. I feel comforted knowing it’s there and that we won’t have to worry or go into debt if we need to buy something, small or large.


Why I Donate Instead of Sell

I’m reading The More of Less by Joshua Becker right now and I think it’s really good. He hits on so many great points of minimalism. More importantly, he highlights things little known and things easily forgot about minimalism that are so important and make minimalism so much more wonderful.

One of the things he writes about is how to get rid of unwanted items.

So many resources recommend selling unused or unwanted things. And it sounds really great. I’ll get money back! Sweet. Because I feel like I deserve that money. I put money out for it, why shouldn’t I get some back? And when I say “some” I mean “a lot”. I mean, I want most of it back. When I think of the money attached to an item, it is so easy for my mind to gloss over the value I’ve already gotten from the item — the actual value for which the item was intended.

Joshua, on the other hand, recommends just giving them away.

He writes about his experiences with yard sales and online selling and how they usually end up being more trouble than they’re worth. I’ve tried yard sales — lugging out all of that stuff and spending my whole day waiting for someone to give me a few bucks is defo not worth it to me.

It’s hard for me to figure out the best way to sell online, too. I don’t like taking pictures of things (how is it that none of the photos I take are the least bit flattering or accurate of the object?). I don’t like filling out all the needed information. I don’t like monitoring the items selling process. I don’t like re-listing it if it doesn’t sell. I do like packing it up to take it to the Post Office, but I don’t like having a time constraint in which to do it. And, again, I rarely get the price I really want for it. The price that would make all the trouble worth it.

Giving things away relieves a bunch of those hassles. There are some things that just need to be done, like the sorting, boxing, and sometimes delivering of unwanted stuff. But every time I do a load, I’m reminded of why I shouldn’t buy so many things in the first place.

Joshua also writes about how donating benefits those on the receiving end and it makes you feel good to have helped someone in need. Those things are great. But they are really just side-benefits for me. I donate instead of sell because it’s just easier. Any money I have made by selling has been eaten up by frustration, strength, and time. Donating enables me to feel the lightness and freedom of owning less straight away.

So the next time you feel the need to sell something to get a “return” on your “investment”, consider just letting it go. Unless it’s a really big ticket item and really worth it or necessary to you (do you want to sell it, or do you need to sell it?), I recommend giving it away. Then you, too, will be able to feel the lightness and freedom of owning less… without the hassle.